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August, 2007

NAMI Bookshelf

In this month's reviews: a revised and updated edition of I Am Not Sick, I Don't Need Help and the latest books a series of first-hand accounts of teenage experiences with mental illnesses.

Books

For seven years, many families have found renewed hope and practical guidance in Xavier Amador’s defining book, I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help: How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Accept Treatment. The revised and updated edition has been long awaited. Now it is here.

In the foreword to the new edition, Pete Earley, author of Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, recounts how one man stood in line at a book-signing simply to thank and shake hands with Amador for having “given me my son back.” Earley echoes the sentiment, describing how the book also helped him to overcome a wedge that bipolar disorder had driven between him and his own son.

Individuals with mental illnesses sometimes have difficulty coming to terms with the nature of their conditions, and their need for medication or other treatment. Amador explains the root of the problem: agnosognosia, a clinical condition in which a person’s lack of awareness, insight, and acceptance of their illness is caused by the illness itself.

The condition is intimately tied to a person’s “sense of self,” including a state of being “stranded” in a past self-concept, unable to address the needs of altered personal circumstances.

For family members who want to help loved ones stricken by mental illness, agnosognosia is a source of endless frustration and distress, not to mention conflict.

Amador prescribes an approach that helps to overcome conflict and recognizes the individual dignity of the family member with the illness, without paternalism.

Based on four principles, it’s called the LEAP method—learn, empathize, agree, and partner. He calls it a “communication style” rather than a “complicated therapeutic intervention.”

In other words, LEAP is family-friendly. “You don’t need an M.D., M.S.W., or Ph.D. to use the main elements of this therapy effectively,” Amador writes.

The point of the therapy is not to force individuals to admit that they are sick. Instead, the goal is to get them to find other reasons to accept help and treatment. Once that happens, and a relationship of respect and trust is maintained, insight into the illness will begin to develop.

Amador is a professor of clinical psychology at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York City and a former NAMI research director and member of NAMI’s national board. He also writes from the heart. The book provides numerous references to individuals with whom he has worked with in clinical practice, but even more, his perspective is influenced by his loving relationship with his brother, who lived with schizophrenia.

Tragically, Enrique Amador died in an accident this spring. In a sense, the book is a memorial to him. It will also help the save lives of many people like him, who are equally loved by their own families.


The Adolescent Mental Health Initiative (AMHI) of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands has published the latest in a series of first-hand accounts of teenage experiences with mental illnesses: What You Must Think of Me and Next to Nothing, on social anxiety disorder and eating disorders, respectively.

Previous titles in the series are Monochrome Days and Mind Race on depression and bipolar disorder. A fifth book, Me, Myself and Them, on schizophrenia, scheduled for publication this fall, is available for pre-order.

It is a unique series that can connect not only with teens, but also parents, teachers, and anyone else involved in their lives who cares.

In each book, the lead author, now in adulthood, writes in the first person and addresses teen readers directly: e.g. “Don’t expect a miracle. While medication can help relieve symptoms, it won’t necessarily erase all your fears and worries overnight.  That’s where psychotherapy can be helpful.”

The result is an informative, compassionate memoir that serves as a mentoring guide. To ensure accuracy, each author is paired with a leading medical expert.

Each book discusses the nature of the illness, warning signs and symptoms, where to find help, how to talk with family and friends, the treatment options available, how to deal with hospitalization, how to manage and maintain recovery, and explanation of relapses or recurrence. There are practical tips, answers to common questions, and inspiration.

“Keep up the hope. Look to the future, not to the past,” writes Kurt Snyder in the upcoming book on schizophrenia.

Starting at age 18, his illness developed over ten years, and included a belief that his life was being manufactured by a “virtual reality machine,” operated by aliens. Today, at age 34, he works as a database administrator and is president of a local volunteer fire department.

The series editor, Patrick Jamieson, Ph.D., is the author of Mind Race, based on his own struggle with bipolar disorder. Diagnosed at age 15, he found that not a single book about the illness existed at the time for young people. So he wrote his own. Supplementing the series is a Web site for teens: www.CopeCareDeal.org.

Use the title links above to purchase these books from the Adolescent Mental Health Initiative on Amazon.com and NAMI will receive a percentage of the purchase price.


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